Cremation vs. Burial: How to Make the Right Choice for You

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When it comes to choosing cremation or burial, there is no one right answer. It all comes down to your personal and religious beliefs, the expectations of your loved ones, how much money you wish to spend and, most importantly, what you feel is the best option for you and your family members. This comparison can help you make the right decision for you, or for your loved one who has just died.

Pros and cons of burial

Pros:

  • The deceased’s body still exists, intact.
  • The deceased can be buried next to family, which for some is an important family tradition (though cremated remains can be buried in this way, too).
  • It can be a more environmentally friendly option, if you opt for a “green burial” where a biodegradable casket is used and embalming is not used as a preservation method. (Some progressive cemeteries will even allow a burial in a shroud on a lowering board with no casket at all.)

Cons:

  • The deceased’s final resting place is one specific spot; if family moves, they may not be able to “visit.”
  • If the person who has died isn’t especially connected to the city or state they live in at the time of death, they may not desire it as their final resting place. While it’s possible to transport a body somewhere else prior to burial or disinter afterwards, this can get pricey.
  • Some people just don’t like the idea of burial and are squeamish about the idea of their physical body decomposing in the ground.
  • Cost: The average price of a burial plot is $1,000, but depending on your location, a single plot can range into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. You’ll also likely pay an  open/close fee or digging charges ($1300-$2000), as well as charges for the purchase and installation of a burial vault or grave liner (national median for a vault is $1,395), a headstone ($500 or more), and the cost to install a headstone (upwards of $500). That doesn’t include other costs that may be connected to burial, such as embalming and a casket.
  • Burial plot upkeep: Some worry about their grave site getting overgrown or forgotten. While a maintenance fee is usually included in the cost of the plot, this maintenance fee tends to be for maintenance of the cemetery at large—not the individual plot and marker. Because of this, some people may not want a grave marker to exist in perpetuity without knowing someone connected to them will take care of its upkeep.

Pros and cons of cremation

Pros:

  • Cremation is generally less expensive in most parts of the country. Nationally, the average price of a direct cremation (cremation soon after death, with no funeral beforehand) is $2,300.
  • Cremation allows flexibility in memorialization—ashes can be buried, scattered, kept in a special container, divided among family, or a combination. A memorial service can also be held some weeks or months after death (perhaps during a vacation when the whole family is free to gather).
  • Some people don’t like the idea of their body decomposing in the ground; they would prefer their physical body be consumed by flame.

Cons:

  • If your family has a family plot or a tradition of being buried in a certain cemetery, cremation may feel like breaking tradition or losing a link to your ancestors—though you can still bury an urn of ashes in most cemeteries, or place the cremated remains in a niche at the cemetery.
  • Some worry about the idea of their body being “destroyed.” They like the idea of their body decomposing naturally.
  • Family may disagree about what to do with the ashes—should they keep them in an urn, scatter them, or one of the many other ways to memorialize ashes? (This kind of dispute can be avoided by a frank discussion prior to death.)
  • Certain religions don’t allow cremation.
  • Cremation may lead to tough questions among family members, including children. Some worry that family members may get upset about the cremation process.

At the end of the day, the decision is a deeply personal one. If you have a strong preference to be either buried or cremated after your own death, the best thing to do is make your wishes known early, and discuss options with your family members, far before the conversations “need” to happen. The more comfortable you are using the words “cremation” and “burial,” the easier it will be both for you to voice your wishes and your family members to carry them out.

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